Central Park SummerStage is one of the great things to do in the summer in New York, offering a killer spread of worthwhile shows featuring everyone from legendary hip-hop artists like Public Enemy to synthpop party starters such as Empress Of. Besides its select benefit shows, it’s also one of the absolute best free things to do in NYC. The complete schedule can be a bit daunting, which is why we narrowed down the list to the gigs in the best NYC parks you definitely won't want to miss this summer.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Central Park SummerStage
Best shows at Central Park SummerStage 2016
Brooklyn electropop duo Chairlift matured enormously between their excessively-twee early days soundtracking iPod nano commercials and the newfound confidence heard on their second vintage synth-pop opus, Something. The elegant flourishes and sparkling bounce heard on the single "Ch-Ching" demonstrate they've progressed the same leaps and bounds on their third album, Moth. Check out the newly polished sound as the twosome play a free outdoor show.
DJ/producer Just Blaze is probably best known for his work with the Jigga man himself, Jay Z, but the NYC vet deals in a lot more than hip-hop: Hear his anthemic horns on Beyoncé's Lemonade standout "Freedom." Whatever the genre, expect a bumping set from the revered beatsmith at this free outdoor gig.
As part of Flying Lotus's increasingly eclectic Brainfeeder label, saxophone jazz-man Kamasi Washington has an ambitious streak. His sprawling 172-minute, three-volume undertaking appropriately titled The Epic is just one example of Washington's aim to reinvigorate and revolutionize the contemporary jazz scene.
Hugely influential in both the mainstream and left-field rhyme-saying fraternities, as well as among rock acts, raucous rabble-rousing rap veterans Public Enemy headline this free gig, touting their latest, 13th record, Man Plans God Laughs. Although their vitality has lessened over the years—they've been in the game for more than three decades—Chuck D, Flav and Co. doubtless still thrill live.
North Jersey indie-rock legends the Feelies drew on the Velvet Underground long before the influence became de rigueur, creating wired, bookish rock at a time when the Vampire Weekend kids were but twinkles in their parents’ eyes. Expect to hear old favorites mixed in with tunes from the band’s 2011 comeback LP, Here Before. Blissed-out indie-gone-psych faves Beach Fossils open.
The groovesome quartet led by New Zealander Ruban Nielson, Unknown Mortal Orchestra makes colorful ’60s-style psychedelic rock with shades of the Kinks and the Zombies, as well as latter-day torchbearers such as Dungen. As Empress Of, singer-songwriter Lorely Rodriguez sounds nothing short of singular, channeling floating electronic beats, meticulously layered samples and dream-pop melodies. From the swinging groove of “How Do You Do It” to the anxiously tremulous synth lines on “Water Water,” Rodriguez employs body-moving bass and house-inspired beats to tell deeply personal tales on her 2015 debut, Me. In the studio, it's all her, but on stage she fleshes out the sound with two bandmates.
Texas expat Alan Palomo's 2011 collection as Neon Indian, Era Extraña, fine-tuned the sun-warped synth-pop that helped him break out alongside fellow chillwave stars Washed Out and Toro y Moi. But while the world soon left chillwave behind in the nostalgic past for which its artists constantly yearn, Neon Indian and his two compatriots turned out to have staying power that transgressed the genre's limitations. At this free show, he'll play from last year's, VEGA INTL Night School, which presented newly flourescent, loose-limbed electrofunk.
Once again, the city becomes a movable ode to Bird for a weekend in August. While this fest may be named for the legendary Charlie Parker, SummerStage’s jazz program isn’t stuck in the past. This year’s boundary-pushing talent, presented over three days, includes composer Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Sextet, keyboardist Jason Lindner’s Breeding Ground and piano powerhouse Jason Moran.
Last year, young Virginia-bred MC GoldLink received the all-important imprimatur of producer-guru Rick Rubin who proceeded to assist on the rapper's debut album, And After That, We Didn't Talk. Like his mixtape, The God Complex, the record demonstrates a promising knack for innovative hip-hop—he calls his style "future bounce"—which still manages to sound timeless.